The Kern County District Attorney’s office is turning over the investigation of a Kern High School District employee’s alleged misuse of a criminal police database to Tulare County prosecutors, citing the appearance of a conflict of interest with those involved in the inquiry, officials announced Monday.
The new investigation into alleged misuse of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System is separate from the one the Kern County D.A.’s office has already completed. In that case, prosecutors declined to press charges against a high-ranking district administrator and a former KHSD police chief accused of furnishing CLETS information to those not authorized to receive it.
The exact details of the new investigation being forwarded to the Tulare County District Attorney’s office are unclear. However, the reporting party is Mike Zulfa, KHSD’s assistant superintendent of human resources, and the subject is current KHSD Police Chief Joe Lopeteguy, Assistant District Attorney Scott Spielman said.
Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green said in a press release Monday that “due to her office’s relationship with the subjects of the most recent allegations of misuse” that the Tulare County DA would determine whether to file criminal charges.
Zulfa’s brother, David, worked as a supervisor in the Kern D.A.’s office before being appointed a Kern County Superior Court judge in 2014. Lopeteguy worked for the Sheriff’s Office before moving on to KHSD, a position that had him regularly interacting with the D.A.’s office, Spielman said.
Spielman added that the D.A.’s office has no actual conflict of interest, but has forwarded the case to the state Attorney General’s office to make that determination.
“The Attorney General’s office didn’t feel it to be an actual (conflict of interest), but they do understand, out of an abundance of caution, it is appropriate for us to send it to another agency because of the appearance,” Spielman said.
KHSD officials said in a prepared statement that they were “made aware of additional allegations related to KHSD employee misuse of the CLETs system not previously investigated by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office,” and that it has since been in “steady communication” with the state Department of Justice and Kern County District Attorney’s office.
“The District was advised last week that the Kern County DA would work with the DOJ to identify and engage an outside law enforcement agency to investigate these additional allegations, and the District appreciates the assistance of all law enforcement agencies involved,” the district said in a statement.
While Spielman and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office would not discuss details of the case, Zulfa filed a police report Aug. 16 alleging that Lopeteguy was improperly accessing CLETS to run a background check on his stepson, a heroin addict and KHSD employee, according to a government claim Lopeteguy filed against the district last month.
Zulfa, who is not authorized to possess CLETS information, gave the Kern County Sheriff’s Office a copy of a March 2014 California Justice Information System report that Lopeteguy requested as proof, that claim states.
But Lopeteguy said in the claim that he had reason to believe his stepson was stealing from the district to support his drug habit and that a background check was necessary to see if he had any outstanding arrest warrants.
“After explaining this to the investigators at the (Kern County Sheriff’s Office), they agreed that nothing improper had taken place,” the claim states, adding that the police report was retaliatory against Lopeteguy. He blew the whistle against former KHSD Police Chief Mike Collier, Athletics Director Stan Greene, and Director of Pupil Personnel Otis Jennings months earlier alleging CLETS misuse.
It’s unclear whether the Tulare County D.A.’s office will explore whether to press charges against Zulfa, who Lopeteguy said in his claim obtained CLETS information without proper authorization. Charges can range from a misdemeanor to a felony.
“We haven’t even been briefed on the case yet,” Tulare County Assistant District Attorney Kerri Lopez said Monday.
The investigation, which has been bounced among at least four separate agencies, isn’t typical, Spielman said.
KHSD’s police department would have investigated, but “didn’t feel they had the ability” and sent it to the Sheriff’s Office, where investigators “did not feel comfortable doing the investigation on Lopeteguy,” Spielman said. Then a couple of weeks ago, the Kern D.A.’s office got the case, announcing Monday it would be sent to Tulare’s prosecutors office.
However, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office investigated the first set of accusations, which Lopeteguy had brought to its attention. The Sheriff’s Office had recommended charges in the first case against Collier and Jennings.
The Kern County D.A.’s office reviewed that case and refused to file charges, citing insufficient evidence and a lapsed statute of limitations, despite another possible appearance of a conflict of interest. KHSD Assistant Superintendent Brenda Lewis’ daughter, Courtney, is a deputy district attorney.
Spielman defends the department’s decision to review that case.
“(Lewis) was not a subject of that investigation, and out of an abundance of caution her daughter was walled off from the case,” Spielman said. “She had no input, she had nothing to do with that review.”